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(as of 4-20-2002)

Sometimes people are curious what equipment we use, so perhaps this will save someone the trouble of writing us to ask about it. Note that we are doing all our mastering digitally now, so the references below to tape mastering no longer apply.

Mastering SVHS editing VCR: Panasonic AG-1980
   Usually selling at around $1200, this semi-pro machine has an amazing built-in time base corrector and adaptive noise filter which allows it to play old, deteriorating, or mis-recorded or overduplicated tapes like no other vcr I've ever seen.  In addition, its editing controls are easy to use.  For semi-pro work, I consider this to be the ultimate "play" machine, and is the machine used for all our editing.

Mastering SVHS editing VCR: Panasonic AG-5700
   This sells at around $1400, and is a rugged portable vcr with a handle.  It doesn't run from 12V, but it can be handy to move from place to place.  It has exceptionally good svhs record specifications, even better than the AG1980.  Though you can do most basic editing functions on it, its clumsy controls keep it from being a primary choice for an editing deck.  It lacks the incredible TBC and anti-noise circuitry of the AG-1980, so it can't do any magic on your tapes in "play" mode.  However, its amazing performance in recording tapes causes me to consider it to be the ultimate "record" machine for semi-pro work.   This was intended to be a robot recorder for TV stations, and has a rear panel RS-232 serial interface.  A simple program can control the machine from a computer. Our software, Subsonic, controls the AG-5700 automatically from the script.  This machine is always the record machine for all our fansubs.

Mastering SVHS editing VCR: Panasonic PVS-4590
   This sold at around $700, and was Panasonic's best consumer VCR when it came out in 1996.  If you can find a used one, it might be a good choice.  When our 1980 is in the shop we use this deck as the play deck -- otherwise it is used with our TV for family viewing.  Though it was the finest consumer SVHS machine we could find at the time, it just can't achieve the color quality, noise level, and resolution of our semi-pro machines.

HI-8 Mastering editing VCR: Sony CVD-1000
   Hi-8 tape compares favorably with SVHS as a mastering medium.  Its only significant drawback is a tendency for "dropouts" to accumulate in a master as particles of ferrite come loose from the tape surface, and for a somewhat higher video noise level than SVHS.  The color resolution of Hi-8 is superior to SVHS, and the luminance resolution is about the same.  My favorite tapes are Sony ME and Sony HMPX.  I tried making masters using Hi8, but the results are inferior to those made on the AG5700, so I only use the Hi8 machine for recording from broadcast. This machine is one I bought on Ebay. Warning: Ebay is a convenient dumping ground for electronics which technicians have tried to fix but had no luck, but which still work "most of the time." A seller can say "it worked when I tested it" with some impunity, even when the unit is flaky and unusable. This particular machine had obviously been taken out of service due to what was probably thought to be a head problem. After a bit of work on my part, I discovered that the real problem was a sticky substance which had contaminated the tape path. Repeated cleaning and re-cleaning, including repolishing of the head, fixed it. I was lucky. Many other supposedly "working" vcr's on Ebay can't be fixed so easily.

Laserdisk Player: Pioneer D504
   The lowest cost laserdisk player with an S-Video output.  Anything more is unnecessary. Was $350.

Genlock: Deltascan (aka Vine Micro "MultiGen") Pro, original model, with modifications.
   The "Pro" has the resolution lacking in the standard model.  I only recommend the "Pro" model.
   It's starting to look like this might be the best of the under-$750 genlocks.  However, the design does have one serious problem.  The color-burst phase lock circuitry is absent, and in its place is a "rubber crystal" energy-coupled tracking oscillator circuit.  This is a clever piece of cost-saving design, but it simply does not have the dynamic range of a real phase-lock circuit, and as a result will not work properly with some devices, particularly our AG-1980 editing VCR (a real shame) and according to reports, some VCR's built by Mitsubishi.  There probably isn't much to be done about it; complaining to Panasonic will get the response that it is Vine Micro's fault, and probably vice-versa too.  We get around this problem by using a MX-1 video switch between the Deltascan and the AG-1980, so that the color burst signal from the AG-1980 doesn't ever reach the Deltascan.  (See below)
   The genlock seems to prefer running with Diamond video cards over Matrox cards.  Matrox cards seem to produce a noticeably noisier output.  I don't know why.
   Results with screen refresh rates of 47 Hz are poor.  60 Hz is a minimum.  All our work is done in 800x600x64K mode at 60 Hz.   Theoretically, the resolution needed for SVHS video, 450 lines, is twice that -- 900 pixels (horizontal).  Therefore 1024x768 is a better choice.  We may eventually switch to that resolution.  A lot of video hobbyists have incorrectly stated that 640x480 is adequate, since 640 is greater than 450, but that isn't really true.  Nyquist's Theorem applies here.  Pixels per horizontal sweep should AT LEAST equal twice the desired resolution in lines, if not exceed that amount.
   We modified this to provide better grounding to external devices and improve grounding of the plug-in devices.  The board isn't rugged enough to withstand constant plugging/unplugging of cables without breaking fairly quickly.  Furthermore, the plastic case provides no protection against radiated interference from nearby monitors, TV's, etc.  Mount it in a metal box.  Of course, doing all this voids the warranty...!  Ours is well out of warranty already though.
   The genlock uses luminance key, and does a good job with it.  It has no inverse-luminance switch, so "black background key" is all you can do.  It would be nice to use "white background key" sometimes for special effects, but if one has to choose, the black-background is superior for shadowed fonts.
   Another note: the genlock DLL software VMCTL3.dll works fine in Windows 3.1 and 95 and 98, but not at all in NT4.

Frame capture: Snappy (original model)
   This is such a fine product for the money that it's an essential item for the video enthusiast.  You plug it into your computer's parallel port, and it can capture a still frame of video, and save it as a graphic file.

Video Switch: Videonics MX-1
   I sold this unit.  However, I'll keep this review here, since it is indexed on the web.  In the discussion below, I refer to a color burst problem which it solves.  However, the MX-1 introduced losses into the process which I didn't like, and which became obvious when a tape was processed a second time.  I got around the color burst problem by doing from-tape subtitles in black-and-white only.  Needless to say, I wasn't very happy with the Videonics MX-1.
   I refer to this as a "video switch" because that's the only thing it does which is useful to us.  Normally, that wouldn't justify it's price, which is over $700 new (I paid $500 used) but it solves one problem, a problem it was never designed to solve... it stabilizes the color-burst frequency of whatever signal it receives.   This allows us to use the Deltascan Pro genlock (which has a poorly locking color burst circuit) with our AG-1980 VCR (which has a color burst signal which deviates from the proper value) in play mode.  (See above.)  In addition, it's a very fine, though outrageously expensive, video switch.  We don't use fancy fades and wipes, so that part of the unit isn't useful to us, though it seems to work well.
    The unit is advertised as having a "TBC" (Time Base Corrector).  Unfortunately, I think this term has become a "marketing term" because it can refer to anything which digitizes and then reconstructs the signal.  This can be a sophisticated Decision-Feedback-Equalizer (DFE), with a digital signal processor (DSP) idealized for noise suppression in both timebase and amplitude.  It's no easy task to design such a device.  The AG-1980 has a fabulous TBC.  On the other hand, if you digitize the signal and then use a simple algorithm to detect the sync times and average them, and reset the data stream, you can call that a "TBC" too.  This might be closer to what the "TBC" is like in the MX-1.   In the case of the 1980, its TBC can perform near-miracles.  In the case of the MX-1, the "TBC" is extremely weak and can't be relied on to do a lot for old, misrecorded, or multigenerational tapes like the TBC in the 1980.
    With regard to it's genlock capabilities, the MX-1 is an example of a product which chose to include only "white" keys and which provides no "invert" switch.  In my opinion, this was a really seriously bad engineering decision on the part of Videonics, since it means their luminance key is only useful as a "cool special effect" instead of for anti-aliased captions!  They rely on their chroma key for captions, which would be adequate for some basic captions, but only if their unit were low noise enough to give a perfectly stable key, but it isn't (partly due to interference from inadequate shielding and buffering inside the plastic box), so in summary the MX-1 ends up with no useable keying methods at all for high quality fansubbing.  What a shame.  That's why we have to keep the Deltascan-Pro.  We were going to sell the MX-1 but accidentally discovered it solved the color-burst problem.
   Apparently, it was "too expensive" to design this unit so that it was in a metal box.  The cheap plastic case means that it radiates digital garbage signals to any nearby monitors or VCR's.  When will consumers learn that you can't trust digital video equipment which is in plastic boxes?  Only if that happens will manufacturers be willing to spend a dollar more so that you can have freedom from destructive interference.  In the meantime we have to buy poorly packaged equipment and put it in grounded metal boxes.

Timing & editing & mastering: Hitachi 7560 laptop with Pentium 166, 96mb, 13-inch TFT display.
   This was my first laptop.  I really loved this little laptop.  It has two perfect features: a bright and unbelievably sharp display, and the "perfect" keyboard layout.  By "perfect keyboard" I mean one which has (1) "control" keys on both the right and left; (2) arrow keys in the 286 layout; (3) pageup/pagedown keys which don't require pressing a special function key, but instead are in the normal block combined with home, end, ins, and del keys.  Many laptops have a keyboard which isn't useable for standard combinations which we needed under DOS -- like control-pageup and shift-pageup and control-arrow.  If you are a first time laptop buyer but used to powerful desktop computers, watch out for this!  Having no control key for the right hand is a BIG problem for us veteran computer users!  The Hitachi Visionbook-Pro line was the only Hitachi line with the ideal keyboard.  At the time, no major laptop company other than Hitachi sold my definition of the "perfect keyboard" combined with a touchpad mouse control.  (Now, there are two other companies which make models which have this combination: HP and Dell.  But be very careful, because some of their models still have missing control keys on the right side!)
   Because of issues with the desktop computer, we began mastering tapes using this laptop.  Results were good, though the VGA output is "bright" compared to other video cards; this requires reducing the brightness of displayed graphics somewhat.
   I had one problem: twice the left button for the built-in mouse has failed.  The second time it happened, I replaced the pushbutton myself with a different type of switch.  This is partly due to very heavy use, and partly due to defective components.  The subminiature ultra-low-profile switch used by Hitachi there simply can't take heavy use.  Did they expect buyers of their notebook to use an external mouse most of the time?  I replaced it with a similar switch from a Nakamichi remote control.  It should last 20 years now.

Subtitling Software: Subsonic 2.22 running under Windows 98
   I wrote "Subsonic" for our subbing projects.  It is also used by Silverwynd.  We may someday release this software.  I recommend that other fansubbers use Substation Alpha.  Subsonic is unique in that it can control an AG-5700 (two at once, even) using scripted commands.  If you use AG-5700's in subtitling, write to us, we'd like to hear from you.